Idioms are a fun yet frustrating part of any language learning experience. They are difficult to learn because language learners are literal thinkers. If I told one of my students they had their head in a cloud, this is what they would think:

Head in the Clouds

(Credit for the awesome head in clouds picture goes to my 13 y/o daughter).

When teaching/learning idioms, it is best to embed it into an appropriate contextual situation (which is best practice for any kind of vocabulary learning).

  1. Pair the idiom with a known antonym or a synonym. For head in the clouds, I might use reliable or solid as an antonym and daydreamer for a synonym.
  2. Give an example from a story you are reading. Instead of typical descriptors like happy, sad, excited, lonely, use an idiom instead. For happy, use on cloud nine. Substituteunder a dark cloud for sad. A dangerous or looming situation could be transformed into a dark cloud on the horizon.  Substitutions like these enrich vocabulary and help students become better readers.
  3. Have the students draw it out. First have them draw what they think the idiom means (see above picture) and then have them draw what it actually means. For head in the clouds, a representation like this might be appropriate:

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There are hundreds of other methods to teach vocabulary, but these are three of my favorite and three that work well with upper elementary to secondary level ESL students. What are some methods you use to teach vocabulary?

©Sara Ackerman, 2016

Water, A Nursery Rhyme


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Water, water everywhere

Enough for everyone if we share.

From coast to coast to every river bend

Teeming ponds and  lakes–our fortune has no end.


We ooze out water between our toes

Squirt it in our eyes and up our nose.

We keep it running as we brush our teeth

A short walk to the kitchen, it’s always in reach.


Thank God our politicians have enough grace 

to shake our hands and smile in our face 

while their back alley deals and hefty “political fees” 

ensure our water is relatively waste free.


Unless of course you live in Flint.


Then for goodness sake, keep your mouth shut,

or you will surely be silenced, taken down, wiped out.

What’s important is it hasn’t happened here.  (Wait-What do you mean it’s happened in 41 other states?)

How did information like this just disappear?


Never mind all that. Our children are safe. They don’t have to walk for blocks

With containers on their heads and bare feet with no shoes or socks.

They don’t dig in the sand with tiny  hands praying they find a muddy pool.

We just turn on a tap and cool water flows whether at home or work or school. 


Who cares if more than 7,000 schools have tested positive for lead?

Our children are among the best educated and they aren’t yet dead.

Though now that I think about it, maybe it’s time we should act. 

After all I read, one of those schools was close-less than 100 miles down the track.


But wait, I forgot! I live in the Midwest.

Known for its rivers, streams and ponds-they’re the best!

Don’t forget the lakes (we’re bordered by two)-we’re drowning in fresh water,

A veritable play land  for every tourist or native son and daughter. 


Disaster! Last night’s news  curtailed our fun,

And we finally saw what our complacency had done.

Our rights-denied.

Our jeweled waterways, our joy, our pride-


Gone. Sold to the highest bidder.


Oh, America how great thou art

Where anything can be bought or easily got

You truly are the land of water and honey

That is, of course, as long as you have money.


The rest of the rabble, us lowly poor suckers

Must pay the price  or else our rights will suffer.

What did you say? The rabble is ninety-nine percent?

But what can we do? Never mind. We’ll follow. We’re content.

© Sara Ackerman 2016





Behind Glass

I stumbled out of bed, staggering sightlessly to the bathroom. The sting of bright  lights dispatched the lingering fog of Morpheus, and with great reluctance, I cracked open my eyes. Leaning over the sink, I stared into the mirror. Blood shot blue eyes stared back, and a riot of strawberry blond waves tumbled in disarray over slumped shoulders.

“You screamed again last night,” my  husband said, toweling off from his shower. I turned around, unsurprised to see him already awake and ready for the new day. He smiled, though worry bracketed his eyes and furrowed his brow. I jerked my head away and stared at the woman trapped in the glass, both of us searching for answers neither of us possessed.

Shaky fingers fluttered and rested on the slim column of sinew and skin,pressing on the wildly beating pulse found there. “Did I?” That question raised an awareness of a raw, previously unnoticed stinging. I swallowed, the convulsive gulp abrading the tender tissues with its nervous action.

“You don’t remember?” he asked. He pulled on his pants and shirt, the casualness of his question recalling to mind fragments of terror, of immobility and fear.

“There was someone by the bed,” I whispered and closed my eyes.  There was always someone by the bed or lurking in the corners, a dark shadow that was never far away. “He was going to kill me.”

“That’s what you said.” He ran a comb through his dark hair, his efficient movements cutting through the noise and chaos clouding my mind. Watching him, I matched my breathing to his.

Inhaling when he inhaled.

Exhaling when he exhaled.

My breathing calmed. The frantic pace of blood pumping through veins quieted until all I heard was a regular thub-thub.


Though fear wrapped me in a tight embrace clinging more tenaciously than a vine to a tree, I concentrated on that rhythm. For in its regularity, there was comfort. There was order.

“What happened after that?”

I didn’t want to know, not really, but I had to ask. Because it never stopped at screaming. There was always an after. He didn’t respond immediately, and guilt took root in my stomach, clawing its way up to my throat until fear and pain mingled, creating a dread more potent than the echo of agony I relived in my dreams.

“I didn’t lash out at you, did I?” That had happened before. Locked in a nightmare, unable to awaken, I had kicked, hit and punched my way through the horror that kept me rooted in the past.

He put away his comb and straightened his tie, smiling at me in the mirror. “No, nothing so awful as that.”

“Then what?”

“You cried and held my hand until sleep came again.”

Relief, when it came, was swift. “Oh, that’s progress.”

“I thought so.” He came to my side and wrapped an arm about my waist, enfolding me into the solid surety of his embrace before taking his leave.

At the door, he hesitated and asked, “Do you ever wonder why after all these years you are screaming now?”

I regarded the woman in the mirror, and her empty eyes stared back. I knew her life before. I knew the terror she felt waiting behind closed doors, hiding from the dark shadows. I knew the sting of pain as it lanced through her body when she had been discovered, tasted the blood in her mouth as she bit her lips to keep in the screams. I had heard her silent sobs and had watched as her attempts to fight back were silenced.

Yes, I knew why I screamed. I knew why a decade after leaving those dark memories behind  blood-curdling screams shattered the peace of my slumbering family. Trembling fingers reached out and touched the glass, and the woman in the mirror cried, quiet tears streaking down her cheeks.

“No one heard my cries before. Now everyone does.” I turned to look at my husband, but he had already gone, leaving me alone to stare at the wreckage of the woman before me.

Her pain, as it had so many times before, nearly crippled me and her burden was too heavy to bear this morning. A mantle of shame and defeat descended, a tangible reminder of the past which refused to die. Far too long it had marked me as different, depriving me of a normal existence where fear did not hold me in its iron grip. 

I could not stand to look at her one minute longer. I closed my eyes, but not before the woman in the mirror opened her mouth and screamed, her soundless cry trapped behind layers of metal and glass.

© Sara Ackerman 2016

The Gypsy Curse Part 2

A half hour later,  the girls ran  back to the house and found their father working in his study. “Papa,  Thunder got out!”

Their father set aside the papers he’d been studying. “Slow down girls. What happened?” He moved out from behind his desk to stand in front of them, his hands clasped behind his back.

“We were playing out by the barn and we say a gypsy by the doors of the barn. And then Thunder neighed really loud. And then we saw him running across the field. And we thought we saw someone riding him. Probably the gypsy we saw.”

Her father arched an eyebrow and pursed his lips. “These are very serious allegations, Beatrice.”  He placed his hands on his hips and paced. “You say that all three of you saw this?” He bent down and studied his girls.

Amelia gulped, for her father’s assessing eyes saw inside to the truth of what she and her sisters had done, but she pushed down the rising panic, swallowed and forced her gaze to her father’s. “Yes, father,” she whispered before cowardice forced her to look away.

Evie stuffed her thumb into her mouth and nodded.

“If what you say is the truth, then this is a very serious problem indeed.” Walking back to his desk, he  sat down. “Thank you, ladies, for telling the truth. I will see that this is taken care of.” He waved his hands and shooed them from his study.

The girls hurried upstairs to the nursery, grateful to have escaped unscathed.  Once inside, nurse took Evie to her cot for a nap. Amelia was tired, too, from the day’s events and crawled into her bed, pulled her covers up to her chin, and  curled up onto her side. Beatrice  plopped down on the bed next to Amelia.

“I told you papa would believe us.” Amelia, sick with guilt  scrunched her eyes shut and pretended to sleep. Beatrice yawned  and snuggled  behind her sister. She threw her arm around her  body and hugged her close. “There’s nothing to worry about, Mimi. Everything is going to be fine. You’ll see.”

Nestled against her sister safe in her bed, Amelia shuddered when icy cold fingers licked up her spine. She pulled her covers higher around her ears. Despite Beatrice’s reassuring words, somehow she knew everything wasn’t going to be fine.

© Sara Ackerman 2016